‘The Sewing Room’ by Mary Costello

If you’ve read this far and I still haven’t convinced you to dip into any of the stories, then this is the one. The one that catapulted me into my obsession with the form. I love Costello’s own story almost as much as I love this one, which closes her first collection. (She has since written two novels, the most recent, The River Capture, published this autumn.) ‘The Sewing Room’ is a simple tale about a moment of passion with life-long consequences. The writing is bare and unsentimental, the emotional impact brutal and devastating. Alice opens her story at the end of an afternoon sewing ahead of an evening to mark her retirement as an Irish primary school teacher. “There had been a child,” we learn early on, our readerly hackles right to be raised at that ominous ‘had’. Costello got the idea for the story from overhearing a snippet on the fringe of a gathering about how “so-and-so’s son is a lawyer now, in Boston”. Alice is Costello’s so-and-so, the baby the Boston lawyer. Costello allows Alice only a flash of judgment about what happened, leaving the reader to feel furious on her protagonist’s behalf. Buy The China Factory to read this story and you’ll be rewarded with the rest of the collection, which is equally luminous. 

Collected in The China Factory, The Stinging Fly Press, 2012